PORTLAND, Ore. – However you want to dissect the strategy behind Portland Timbers head coach John Spencer’s starting lineup, one thing seems clear as the regular season draws to a close: He’s going with whoever has the hot hand.
That will be the case as the Timbers prepare for a Wednesday match at JELD-WEN Field against the San Jose Earthquakes (10:30 pm ET, watch LIVE online).
Rookie Darlington Nagbe, who got the start against New England last Friday due to Jorge Perlaza falling ill, will once again get the start on the front line against the Quakes.
Nagbe had started the previous three games on the bench but will join Kenny Cooper at forward for the third time this season after a dangerous 90 minutes against the Revs that included a nice headed goal.
“I think he deserves to [start],” Spencer said after training Tuesday. “Jorge deserves to get back with the team because he’s done well for us. That’s the thing when you have a squad full of good players, talented players. When you give someone a chance, whether it be through injuries or a suspension, you get the chance to come in and you could possibly lose your spot on the team. And Darlington took his opportunity.”
It’s a nice problem to have as the Timbers try climb into a playoff spot, considering Perlaza’s six goals is second on the team to midfielder Jack Jewsbury’s seven. Nagbe’s header was just his second goal of the year, but Spencer said his explosiveness Friday night opened up the offense.
Portland are tied with New York on 36 points from 28 games, but the Red Bulls hold the tiebreaker and the 10th and final spot thanks to goal differential and head-to-head tiebreakers.
Spencer said the dominating play of both forwards against New England allowed the entire team to advance up the field and become involved in the offense. Cooper also scored a goal – his fifth – as the Timbers created 20 shots.
“For 45 minutes, we passed the ball ever so well, the movement to the ball was excellent, the one-touch, two-touch football, running in behind, I thought we played ever so well,” Spencer said.
The merciless offensive pressure Portland applied against New England was starkly different from their performance in their first visit to San Jose on Aug. 6 that ended in a 1-1 draw. In that game, Portland managed just 12 shots.
“I think we’re going to need a performance like that tomorrow against San Jose,” Spencer said referring to Friday’s victory. “Every game is totally different. They’re a good team, an experienced team.”
San Jose are coming off a 2-1 loss to the Houston Dynamo on Saturday. They have 29 points from 28 games, seven points behind Portland. If the Quakes still have a glimmer of postseason hope it depends on getting three points on Wednesday.
“If they lose here, possibly their season could be over,” Spencer said. “So they’ve got a lot riding on the game tomorrow night.”